HxRefactored 2014 in NYC on May 13-14 at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge.
HxRefactored is a revolutionary design and technology conference that will gather over 500 designers, developers and leaders in health for two days of thought provoking talks, workshops and discussions on how to improve the quality of the health experience. The conference fuses the technical and creative elements of Health 2.0’s Health:Refactored and Mad*Pow’s Healthcare Experience Design Conference.
It is not easy and takes time turning an organization’s mindset from what is into what if. It’s a great and rewarding achievement, though, if you can pull it off!
Building an Ecosystem
So, let’s continue there: If you find yourself in a company which does not provide an environment that supports intrapreneuring, you may need to build an innovation ecosystem within a large organization. Practically, you choose to become a midwife helping ideas of your colleagues getting a chance to come to life. This enables other aspiring intrapreneurs to step up, unite and act together.
A transition mechanism to feed these ideas back into the regular organization to become funded and implemented with strategic alignment to company goals
Preparing management how deal with intrapreneurs. You will need to build or teach
A set of relevant intrapreneurialskills for employees
A supportiveteam and for you to maintain
A positive attitude that you will need to persist and push on.
The “School for Intrapreneurs” (SFI)
A very powerful approach and critical puzzle piece in the ecosystem is the School for Intrapreneurs. We achieved to build this school successfully together with help from like-minded and supportive colleagues that I was fortunate to meet along my crooked intrapreneurial career path, if you want to call it that. The underlying premise of the SFI is that innovation skills can be taught, as mentioned in “How you become the next Steve Jobs!” – So, we teach them in this program.
In the end, results count or in the words I adopted from Accenture’s advertisement: “It is not how many ideas you have. It’s how many you make happen.”
Building intrapreneurial skills systematically, however, is only part of the deal. The real value of the program for the participants lays in experiencing the obstacles an intrapreneur faces in an organization themselves: the rocky road of rejection trying to get an idea on its feet.
We prepare our fellow employees in a process where they form supportive teams to collaborate in order to develop their ideas together and experiment. This includes ways to communicate with management in constructive and non-threatening ways on How Intrapreneurs avoid “No!”, for example. It culminates in pitching ideas to experts and potential sponsors for funding, implementation and support.
Executive sponsorship ensures strategic alignment of ideas with company interests. It also increases the chances dramatically for idea transitions into the established processes of the regular organization, i.e. the idea becoming a project to be implemented. This is why special emphasis needs to be put on preparing management how to support and benefit from intrapreneurs; after all, there are risks involved with intrapreneuring for the individual (see also The Rise of the Intrapreneur).
The three courses build upon each other; we named them DOORWAY, PATHWAY and JOURNEY:
DOORWAY is a two-hour awareness course that outlines how innovation happens in large organizations, what typical obstacles are, what is an intrapreneur and already hints towards what is offered in the succeeding courses, PATHWAY and JOURNEY.
PATHWAY is in its core an incubator and accelerator over a 12 weeks with a mix of training and group work. Research suggests that approx. 5% of the workforce have the intrapreneurial spirit, which is consistent with our school’s enrollment numbers. At the end of the course, the teams pitch their developed ideas to a panel of experts and managers representing different business functions for in-depth feedback and advice how to improve the ideas. – Think “Shark Tank” but without bloody teeth. Teams with the most promising ideas then pitch to high level executives for sponsorship and support to turn their idea into an implementation project that enters the regular development processes in the organization. Receiving executive sponsorship is another level of validation that confirms strategy alignment with company interests.
JOURNEY is a six-month course designed to accompany the team implementing their ideas by providing a mix of skill-building and team-customized coaching. – Why is this needed and important?
Even with executive sponsorship the project has neither been budgeted for nor are other resources planned and available for its implementation; so, the project still disrupts the establishment and may trigger resistance.
Shaping company culture
We also ask JOURNEY participants to connect with the next group going through the PATHWAY course to network, share their experiences and help guiding the “next generation” of graduates. The goal is to achieve sustainability of the program by growing the number of like-minded, experienced and connected employees over time.
Over time, an increasing number of graduates keep the perpetualpipeline of fresh ideas open. They also grow to become a powerful, far-reaching and growing network of active change-makers across all parts of the organization as they connect and pass on their knowledge to the next class going through the School for Intrapreneurs.
These are the self-identified leaders of change that share a common innovation terminology, skill-set and experience while they help shaping the organizational culture and mindset on the way towards a sustainable environment, an innovation ecosystem.
Lessons from the School for Intrapreneurs
My key learning from this challenge in a nutshell is as follows:
The personal journey and ‘intrapreneurial experience’ is of utmost importance for the School’s participants – a theoretical training alone does not do the trick. It has to be hands-on and all the way to implementation.
This is why the participants value the safe space to operate and experiment in.
Typically, talent in large organizations is selected top-down by management. In contrast, talent self-identifies bottom-up and based on –intrapreneurial- merits though the School for Intrapreneurs.
Alumni are hardened by their experience and become part of a growing community of capable and engaged change agents.
Successful pitches to executives validate the alignment with company strategy – not only for the individual idea but also broader for the entire program of the School for Intrapreneurs.
The program allows gives more disruptive, risky and outside-the-box ideas a chance that otherwise would not have been brought to executive attention, or so our executive sponsors said.
The School for Intrapreneurs is part of a larger framework to change company culture over time by cultivating discovery and 10x innovation capabilities once again.
Why? – In part, perhaps, driven by my passion for disruptive challenges but mostly out of compassion for my talented colleagues, and who deserve better; we we work hard every day to save and improve the lives of patients.
There must be a way of turning around a mature organization. After all, IBM reinvented itself several times and turned from a manufacturing to a services company, what a pivot is that!
Getting back to 10x innovation
So, can a mature pharmaceutical company adapt and pivot from within as well? After all, innovation in ‘pharma’ is commonly understood to find, develop and bring to market new innovative medicinal drugs as the core business. In a rapidly and fundamentally changing business environment (see “What is Digital Medicine?), however, the “selling pills” model alone runs flat, the company must find and adapt to new business models to survive and flourish.
It starts with understanding why innovation slows down in maturing organizations (outliers may confirm the rule) but stay with me here to get the basic principle. The answer lays in the natural business life cycle: in the start-up phase of an new company, the most important skills are around discovery, i.e. to explore a radically new business opportunity.
As the business gains traction and needs to grows, delivery skills are needed most. Management composition needs to change in order to develop and expand the business professionally; disruptive input is not in demand and can becomes rather inhibiting to the operation that needs to focus on delivering output reliably and at scale. Innovation shifts from disruption to incremental improvement and rightly so, yet it comes at a price as it leads to predictable obstacles (see Overcoming the Three Big Hurdles to Innovation in Large Organizations)
Research shows that disruptive innovators are typically not good at delivery and growing the company. As the business matures, they need help and often move on to do what they do best: starting some new, while the company matures in the hands of management that can deliver.
Over time, however, markets get saturated and the established business model may no longer work, profits decline. Now here comes the inflection point: the management was hired for its delivery skills. They don’t really know how to renew the business, since they never created one. What they do know is how to prolong the downturn by clinging to the outdated business model while squeezing out inefficiencies and saving cost. Research confirms, little surprise, that the maturity managers are good at delivery but mediocre at best when it comes to discovery.
The company, a supertanker, became a slowly sinking ship. Group-think, the mindset and engrained culture, prevents disruption from breaking through. After all, no passionate out-of-the-box thinker or entrepreneur has been hired for years. Instead, Ivy League graduates with MBAs are favored that runs the business more administratively, bureaucratically, without taking significant risks – who would ever take the risk and hire a crazy guy, right?
Large organizations have vast resources – but this advantage inherently bears also a disadvantage: like large dinosaurs, with increasing size and maturity they lose the ability to adapt quickly to a changing environment as their smaller competitors can to seize business opportunities.
The Big Three
Let’s first identify the three typical obstacles that large organizations struggle with before we address how to disrupt and overcome them as intrapreneurs. The task at hand is to spark new energy, employee engagement and business growth opportunities in alignment with business strategy and company culture. By the way, if you are new to intrapreneuring, see also The Rise of the Intrapreneur and the Top 10 posts for Intrapreneurs.
So, these three big hurdles are the
Vertical Disconnect: Ideas from the bottom of the hierarchy do not find their way vertically to the top anymore to get implemented.
Horizontal Divide: Functional silos separate the workforce horizontally which limits putting to effective action the full potential of the company’s resources and diversity in a concerted way.
Inertia: More talking about change than taking action opens a widening gap between ideas and their implementation, as it is so much easier to lean back and improve incrementally than taking risks of major changes. Red-tape and ever mounting bureaucracy does its part to keep the wheels from turning and breeding a mindset of mediocrity.
These obstacles combine to form an unfavorable ecosystem of stagnation by containing innovative thoughts from growing and ripening, by inhibiting innovators to take action with passion and by blocking courageous action necessary to drive the organization’s future success and –possibly- survival.
Sketching a future innovation ecosystem
Here is what it takes to break the crust in order to reinvigorate and nourish innovation to flourish once again by creating an innovation-friendly ecosystem:
1. Vertical cut: Connect grass-root ideas with executive sponsors
A mechanism is needed to pipe fresh and promising ideas in an appropriate format from the grass-roots to find their way to executives, where the ideas get recognized, sponsored and put into motion for the better of the company. This holds true for disruptive break-through ideas in particular and in contrast to the continuous incremental improvement (see also 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?) that typically makes up most of the organizations day work.
Don’t be mistaken, executives worth their salt seek good ideas like the air they breathe. They are generally more open to necessary change and course corrections than one may think. The executives also hold the keys to feeding the ideas back into the machinery of the larger organization to get implemented.
A mechanism is needed that allows cutting vertically through the red-tape and hierarchical boundaries of the mature organization. It creates a pipeline of ideas that connect the top with the bottom of the organization and everything in between with intrapreneurial passion.
2. Horizontal cut: Connect across functions and geographical silos
Large organizations tend to foster functional (and geographical) silos to increase efficiency, quality, and reliability in their operations (again, see Leadership vs Management? What is wrong with middle management?). This, however, effectively inhibits ideas of game-changing nature to flow freely and being developed with input from diverse perspectives to the benefit of the larger organization.
A wise saying goes: “Innovation happens at the intersection of disciplines.” It is these diverse perspectives and adding brains to a problem that help to improve and develop an idea to become more robust, innovative and feasible. Thus, a mechanism is needed to effectively cut horizontally through organizational walls to allow employees to effectively collaborate, network and connect the established silos and islands.
3. Tangible results: Bridge the “Idea to Implementation” gap
In the end, what we to achieve is giving good ideas a chance that otherwise would never get considered or implemented – especially in a mature business environment that favors low-risk incremental improvement over more risky breakthrough experimentation (see 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?).
We need a mechanism that frees the intrapreneurial spirit of employees and directs the passion and potential of our employees’ ideas to tangible results that, ultimately, drive new business growth.
How does it work?
The intrapreneurial instruments and mechanism of this innovation ecosystem include, for example:
School for Intrapreneurs,
Internal corporate venturing,
Networks for implementation and
Opening to outside perspectives.
Over the next blog posts I will address each of these approaches (and perhaps more) and share my experiences from implementing exactly that successfully in a FORTUNE Global 500 company. So, check back soon or get updates via Twitter @OrgChanger.
It a strange question. Isn’t it astonishing how many people say “I am not creative” or believe “innovators” are so much different from themselves. As if innovators are an enlightened lot of geniuses that come up with breakthrough innovations that nobody else could have thought of or made happen but them. Icons such as Steve Jobs (Apple), Elon Musk (Tesla) or Jeff Bezos (Amazon) stand out. They apparently think differently and changed the world.
The question for the rest of us is: could I be a Steve Jobs too? Or do have to be born gifted to be able to innovate in ways that “make a ding in the universe” like Steve Jobs?
You can learn creativity!
If you ask kids in kindergarten or preschool if they are creative, they enthusiastically respond “Yes!” At that age we are convinced we are creative and express our views, thoughts and ideas in many ways. We design rockets to Mars or create new animals, nothing is out of bounds or out of reach.
What has happened to us that we believe as grown-ups and employees we can no longer create and change the world? I heard “I could never do that” and “nothing will change anyway” too many times.
Good news is that genetic predisposition only attributes one-third to your creativity and innovative-ness (if this is a word), while two-thirds are skills that can be learned, as research confirmed many times over (see Marvin Reznikoff et al, Creative abilities in identical and fraternal twins, Behavior Genetics 3, no. 4, 1973).
Therefore, innovation can be taught, “nurture trumps nature.” So, you can learn it too!
Are you an intrapreneur or entrepreneur?
However, not everyone wants to take the risk and uncertainty to make an entrepreneurial dream come true by starting a new business on their own. Many of us work in large organizations and would like to improve the company from within somehow.
This is where intrapreneuring comes into play. Intrapreneurs are also called corporate entrepreneurs, since they apply entrepreneurial methods within the organization to create intraprises. (See also The Rise of the Intrapreneur)
What innovators have in common
So is there anything that great innovators share and which we ‘mortals’ can replicate or do similarly to succeed? – In fact, there is!
In his iconic book “The Innovator’s DNA,” famous disruptive innovation guru Clayton Christensen (who is also known for coining the term ‘disruptive innovation’) identified four common catalysts that sparked the great ideas:
“a question that challenged the status quo,
an observation of a technology, company, or customer,
an experience or experiment where he was trying out something new,
a conversation with someone who alerted him to an important piece of knowledge or opportunity”
This comes down to the four following behaviors, as Christensen found out: questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting.
While, typically, the underlying information is not unique, the innovator’s associative thinking combines information and connects dots that seem random or unrelated to others. They create a picture or vision of a need or opportunity to pursue.
Now, on your way to become an intrapreneur (or entrepreneur), how can you get to these insights, find a suitable target and make it happen?
There are two basic steps:
Don’t work alone
Seek a fertile environment.
1. Don’t work alone
An African proverb says “If you want to walk fast, walk alone; but if you want to walk far, walk together”. Developing and bringing a disruptive idea to life takes time, work and -more than anything- collaboration. It’s not a fast shot and you will need help. What you can do is tapping into more brains: ask others and bring together a diverse team around an idea. You want to get as many different perspectives to see the fuller picture, risks, needs, opportunities to tackle the problem you are working on.
You may be blindsided or unaware of things critical for your success including much needed political cover, validating your assumptions or technical aspects outside your expertise. If you try to do everything yourself, you are setting yourself up for failure for a simple reason: you are not an expert in everything! Stick with what you are good at and let other experts help you with what they are good at.
2. Seek a fertile environment
If you want to start your own business as an entrepreneur, you may want to move where you find the best condition for a supportive business environment, an ecosystem. For entrepreneurs, for example, Stanford University and Silicon Valley remain a major tech magnets with ample and easy access to top talent and money. Also accelerators can serve this purpose. Comparable conditions for an innovative ecosystem exist at the US-East coast in the Boston area. Depending on your business idea, other locations and ecosystems may be more suitable – do your homework and find the right one for you.
As an intrapreneur, your available ecosystem seems more limited: it typically is the company you work in that defines the perimeter of your freedom to navigate. Your advantage here can be that you already know the environment and who could be supporting or funding your idea. If not your, you could more easily ask colleagues for help than people outside your company could, which significantly lowers the bar for access to resources.
Let’s continue by focusing on intrapreneuring. Compared to the entrepreneurial world out there, within an organization you may have more opportunities to help shape the fertile ecosystem for breakthrough ideas if none exists yet.
Open offices are not a new invention. They have been around for a long time as hallmark of start-up companies that simply cannot afford glitzy corporate skyscrapers with plush corner offices (yet). Open offices emerged less by deliberate design than driven by need.
Start-ups typically run on a vibrant culture of passionate people wanting to spend time together to create something great, everyone works together closely in the tight space available. Information flows fast and freely. Recreational elements and other services offered remove the need or motivation to leave. Employees hang out to work maximum hours as a team in a fun, inspiring and supportive environment. Productivity is up and work gets done.
Large companies are attracted by this powerful value-proposition for open offices – or so it seems. Mature organizations struggle with their increasing size that, over time, entails increasing specialization and complexity with a stifling system of red tape and inertia.
While jobs are large in small companies and come with broad scope and high accountability, which are diluted when jobs narrow in large companies by increased specialization over time. Functional silos emerge and sub-optimize often to the detriment of other business functions.
The reasons for large organizations moving to an open floor plan are often glorified and communicated as a measure to increase creativity and productivity in an appealing modern working environment: employees connect casually and spontaneously at the ‘water cooler’ to network and innovate together again.
The true and paramount driver for tearing down the office walls, however, is often more sobering: it comes down to simply cutting costs by reducing the expensive office footprint. Fitting more people into less space comes at a price for the workforce.
Cost savings only get you so far. It’s an easy approach but not a sustainable business model for productivity. What do you really save if productivity goes down? How sustainable is your business then? Sacrificing productivity for cost savings is a narrow-minded approach lacking long-term perspective and, therefore, not worth it. That is unless your goal is to achieve short-term gains without consideration for the future of the business, which is a disqualifying business perspective altogether.
The popular phenomenon in large companies is a move for the wrong reasons (the better driver being increased productivity) and entails serious consequences that jeopardize the company’s productivity, workforce satisfaction, and even the bottom line.
It gets even worse when the new environment is retrofitted space with structural limitations, founded in the legacy of existing buildings and investments, and if no flanking measures taken to enable effective collaboration needs.
A design from scratch has the potential support the collaboration needs and flow of the workforce best. This is an advantage start-ups have when they can shape and rearrange loft space to their immediate needs without limitations carried forward.
Controlling cost is necessary and reducing office footprint is an effective business measure. Aetna, for example, has nearly half of their 35,000 employees working from home already, which saves ~15% to 25% on real estate costs – that’s about $80 million saving per year.
Do not get me wrong, there are undeniable benefits to open office spaces – when applied for the right reasons in the right context, with right priorities and proper execution. The point I am making is that cost reduction alone is not a worthwhile driver if it sacrifices productivity. There comes a point where a hard decision has to be made and if you prioritize cost savings, you sacrifice productivity and other aspects automatically.
What does it take?
Unfortunately, the start-up company model with open office space and its agile and enthusiastic does not scale for large organizations. The corporate one-size-fits-all approach does not do the trick for several reasons.
Let us look at aspects that make the open office work:
Tear down cost center walls
Make presence easy
Level the (remote) playing field
Embrace work style differences
1. Tear down cost center walls
Proximity favors who needs to work together closely. In a start-up company, staff is few and jobs are big. This ratio flips in large organizations where many employees work in highly specialized functions. With increasing specialization comes complexity that leads to functional silos. The employees become separated by every rising departmental and organizational walls.
In large organizations, work space is typically paid for by department and charged to cost centers. Staff gets corralled this way and kept separated in functional clusters that are easier to administer but counteract productivity, streamlined workflow, and diverse collaboration cross-functionally. After all, it wouldn’t make sense to have any department operating completely independent from the rest of the organization.
These artificial and structural boundaries make no sense (unless you are an accountant, perhaps). Therefore, trade the urge for financial micro-management for what makes the workforce more productive, as this is the most important aspect of collaboration and, ultimately, the bottom line.
2. Make presence easy
Make it easy for your employees to go the extra mile. Now here is where large companies can learn from how start-ups: offer incentives for employees to hang out and remove reasons for them to leave to maximize time to work and collaborate.
The list seems endless: free beverages and food, services such as laundry, hair dresser, spa or receiving deliveries, exercise equipment, healthy snacks, child and pet care, and other useful perks that cost-cutting companies often omit.
Sounds like a waste to many large companies. But is it really? You get more out of your employees’ carefree working along longer than by pinching the free coffee and have them leave during the day or early to run their necessary errands.
3. Level the (remote) playing field
It may sound counter-intuitive but when cost saving rules, the open office space often only works when not all employees are around at the same time. If all employees showed up on the same day there may not be enough room and resources (seating, access to power and networks, etc.) to fit and accommodate everyone, since the physical office footprint is now too small ‑ a Catch-22.
When only a subset of employees can be present in the office at any given workday, the rest has to work remotely forming an –at least- virtual organization. Consequently, the random personal connection “at the water cooler” becomes less likely as does spontaneous cooperation by “pulling together a team” since your pool of physically available staff is limited.
Management needs to take deliberate and determined measures to level the playing field for remote workers by giving them the same opportunities as colleagues present in the office. Why? “Out of sight, out of mind” is a powerful and human nature. If not managed effectively, it only becomes worse when remote staff easily is continuously overlooked when it comes to projects staffing, development opportunities and promotions, for example. The resulting inequities undermine workforce cohesion, effectiveness, and talent development.
FastCompany recently came up with a list of reasons by workers arguing against open offices, which is a good indicator where the pain-points are. Representative or not, the list tends to resonate with people that experienced first-hand working in a corporate open office environment.
The key complaints are about
Distraction – hard to concentrate with surrounding noises of all sort; loud speaking coworkers; interruptions of coworkers stopping by at any given time
Discomfort – no privacy; by-passers looking at your screen and documents; food, bodily and other odors; white-noise generators blamed for headaches; spreading contagious illnesses; having to talk to people when you don’t feel like it; “hiding” by wearing earphones
Workflow obstacles – competing over quiet spaces, conference rooms or other rare resources; no place to store personal items or personalize the space.
One size does not fit all and it does not do the trick for large companies, in particular. So if you have to downsize office space or accommodate more employees, take a sound and sustainable approach by making productivity the driving priority and not cost.
After all, we are human beings that work best when we have control over our work environment and schedule. When we perform at our best, it is also for the better of the company as a whole. Flexibility, empowerment and inclusion go a long way – otherwise, mind FastCompany’s warning: “What was supposed to be the ultimate space for collaboration and office culture was having the opposite effect” – also for the bottom line.
For MPH, EMPH, PTM, MBA, EMBA, and MD (including dual-degree) graduate students
To be held Friday, November 9, 2012 At Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health
GOALS OF COMPETITION:
Create opportunity for students to apply classroom learning to a real-world healthcare case, using strategic decision making to solve health service delivery problems
Allow students from the three Alliance schools�Business, Medicine, and Public Health�to collaborate in a cross-functional way
Utilize faculty from the three Alliance Schools to advise teams
For more information/rules and to register your team for the competition, please contact Prof. Paul Thurman, Executive Director of the Alliance, at Paul.Thurman@Columbia.edu Students must register by October 31, 2012
Although all business functions are affected, corporate Information Technology (IT) departments often lend themselves as best examples for a “big elephant” world: they are critical enablers in a pivotal position of every modern organization. Even though the success of practically every business function hinges on IT, also IT is not immune to this silo-forming phenomenon in large organizations.
Over time and with ‘organizational maturity’, the IT department tends to end up focusing on what they do best: large back-office projects that cannot be funded or run by any business function in isolation, since they span across disciplines or impact the entire enterprise. Just one examples for a “big elephant” project is implementing a comprehensive Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system across multiple locations internationally.
This is the back-office domain and comfort zone of IT with technology know-how, big budgets, long duration, high visibility, rigid governance and clear processes to follow.
Small Elephants in the Front-Office
In contrast, the front-office typically comprises Marketing, Sales and Product Development. Here, a small tweak or agile change (that requires some IT input) can go a long way and have significant impact on organizational effectiveness and business results. – These micro-innovations are “small elephants” as recent Gartner research coined them.
These little disruptions to the slower-moving big elephant world easily trigger the “corporate immune-system” that favors large elephants and suppressing small emerging ones.
Typically, most projects in large organization aim to reduce cost in some way. Only a minority of projects address new business and growth opportunities that tend to come with uncertainty and greater risk.
While big elephants are typically incremental improvement project to save cost, it’s the small elephants that are more likely to be disruptive drivers of growth and future business opportunities: the much needed life-blood of sustaining business and future prosperity.
Barriers in the Big Elephant World
IT departments tend to struggle the farther they move away from their ‘core competency’ meaning leaving the big-elephant back-office and dealing with the myriad of small needs of the customer-facing units in the small-elephant front-office.
Many reasons contribute to say “No!” to emerging small elephants:
Small elephants are disruptive to the big elephant world, perhaps even threatening to the establishment
It is hard for the back-office to accept that there cannot be much standardization around these small small elephant solutions by the very nature of their scope and scale
It is cumbersome to plan and manage resources scattered across small projects that pop up left and right without significantly impacting big elephant projects. Unfortunately, pressure to save cost only fuels the focus on fewer, bigger elephants.
Gartner brings the dilemma to the point: “[..] the focus on optimization, standardization and commoditization that underlies IT’s success in the back office is contrary and even detrimental to the needs of the front office.”
Insights in front-end processes and customer needs are essential (and not usual IT back-office competencies) to seize small elephant opportunities, which are often disruptive and driven by the agile intrapreneurial spirit that makes full use of the diversity of thought and understanding customers deeply.
– See also The Rise of the Intrapreneur
On top of it all, the challenge for IT is to understand the potential and pay-off for initiatives that rely on IT in a domain outside of IT’s expertise: In the mature world of big elephants, ROI projections are demanded upfront and based on models that apply to mature organizations. These models typically do not apply well to measure project ROI in the emergent worlds of small elephants, which puts the small elephants at a disadvantage; another disconnect that easily leads big elephant organizations to reject proposed small elephants.
As a bottom-line, for large IT departments it is simple and convenient to say ‘No!’ to requests for “micro-innovations” coming in from employees scattered across the front-offices. And, sadly, often enough this is exactly what happens. Despite the lasting impact of “No!” (see also How Intrapreneurs avoid “No!”), turning ideas and proposals down too fast also leaves out opportunity for huge innovation potentials (see also 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?).
What happens to IT without small elephants?
Ignoring the need for micro-innovations and notsupporting them effectively will not serve IT departments well in the long-run. With only big-elephant focus IT departments are at high risk to lose sight of the needs of their internal customers. Consequently, IT undermines and finally loses its broader usefulness, acceptance and footing in the business functions they intend to serve.
When small elephants are neglected or blocked, it practically forces the front-office to look for other resources sooner or later in order IT-services providing resources to get their needs taken care of. Over time, the big IT department drifts to become more and more obsolete, and finally replaced by agile and responsive agencies and contractors that deliver on their front-office customer needs.
After all, IT’s general role is one of an enabler for the core businesses rather than being perceived by its customers as a stop-gap.
How to raise Small Elephants
So, what can a mature yet forward looking IT organization do to support micro-innovations – or ‘balance the herd,’ so to speak, to include a healthy number of small elephants in the mix?
Brad Kenney of Ernest&Young recommends limited but dedicated resources (including time) for micro-innovations in Ernest&Young’s 2011 report “Progressions – Building Pharma 3.0”;
for example, dedicate 10% of the expert’s time to implement micro-innovations
Test changes in emerging markets first, if possible, where agility is high at a lower risk of jeopardizing the bottom line or threatening the established organization and its investments in mature markets
Establish effective collaboration platforms that make it easy for employees to openly and conveniently share content among each other as well as with external parties.
How Intrapreneuring helps
A systematic approach to Intrapreneuring can go a long way to help move these micro-innovations forward. It starts with systematic intrapreneurial skill-building for employees across all levels of hierarchy and includes:
Understanding how innovation happens in large organizations, i.e. large and small elephants and the need for both to exist
Helping employees become aware of and overcome their own mental barriers and silo-thinking
Attracting, inspiring and engaging employees to take their idea forward knowing there are obstacles in their way
Training skills that help to frame, develop and pitch ideas to potential supporters and sponsors
Building and presenting a business case for review and improvement by peers and management
Enabling and empowering employees to bring their small elephants to life and sharing the story of their success to inspire others
Working to gradually change the mindset of the organization, its culture, as needed, to become more balanced on the elephant scale, to unlock the resources within the own workforce and to seize opportunities for growth and the future of the business.
Just as out there in the wild, without raising small elephants the life-span of organizations with only big elephants is limited.